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Chicago South Shore Benefits from Recent Developments

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

Two major developments that occurred last year are proving beneficial to the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad (CSS) this year. And a couple more milestones in sight figure to generate even more payoffs in 2023.

Owned by Anacostia Rail Holdings since 1990, the more than century-old short line operates 182 miles of track in the Chicago metropolitan area and northwest Indiana. The railroad interchanges with every Class I and short line that operates in the greater Chicago rail hub, including the Belt Railway Co. of Chicago (BRC), Chicago, Fort Wayne and Eastern Railroad, Chicago Rail Link, Gary Railway Co., Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd., Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, Indiana Rail Road Co. and Wisconsin & Southern Railroad.

CSS provides industrial development, interchange and industrial switching, and transloading services. Commodities handled by the short line include building materials, chemicals, coal, food grade products, grain, paper, pig iron and steel.

In late 2022, roofing product manufacturer GAF Material Corp. opened a 200,000-square-foot distribution center along CSS’ line in Michigan City, Indiana. The facility provides GAF more capacity and flexibility to serve the North American market. In the United States alone, one in four homes feature the company's products on their roofs.

CSS interchanges GAF’s freight with the BRC. So far, business from the new distribution center has added up to several hundred additional carloads, says CSS President Todd Bjornstad.

Because of rail access limitations, GAF’s previous production and distribution facility in Michigan City needed to move rail-delivered materials by truck to a leased warehouse located across the city.

“GAF added a track to move freight by rail that had been trucked,” he says.

Also in 2022, CSS unveiled an upgraded transload facility in Michigan City that’s managed by its operator Precision Terminal Logistics. The 10-acre facility is located near Interstate 94 and U.S. Route 12, and features a newer truck scale and space for 10 rail cars. In addition, seven acres are available for material storage and working space.

The facility provides access on both sides of its track for center-beam lumber car loading or unloading. It’s designed to handle a wide range of bulk commodities, such as beams, pilings, rebar, aggregates, stone and cement.

The facility is ideally suited for shippers in southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana, CSS officials say.

In terms of infrastructure and rolling stock, CSS will be better suited by year’s end due to an ambitious 2023 capital program. The robust program will help keep the railroad in a good state of repair to maximize safety and minimize service interruptions, says Bjornstad.

This year, CSS plans to replace 3,000 ties between Michigan City and Kingsbury, Indiana, surface track in various locations and upgrade several grade crossings. Typically, the short line installs 2,000 to 2,500 ties per year, says Bjornstad.

In addition, capital work is planned at Burnham Yard, including tie replacements and upgrades to two tracks.

“We usually work on a couple of tracks each year,” says Bjornstad.

Moreover, CSS plans to rebuild four locomotives that were built in the 1980s. Work will focus on below-deck refurbishments, including the sandblasting or replacement of all metals, and flooring and air compressor replacements.

The work will further increase the locomotives’ lifespan and reliability, says Bjornstad. Additional upgrades to the motive-power fleet will continue for the next several years.

CSS locomotives also factor into the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s (NICTD) ongoing double-track project between Michigan City and Gary that impacts the short line. CSS retains freight trackage rights on 25 miles of the district’s line.

The short line has leased two extra locomotives to help ensure service continuity during construction. The $491 million project — which began in March 2022 — calls for adding 18 miles of track within a 26-mile corridor, and building or improving passenger platforms, stations and parking areas.

CSS is operating trains on the line overnight to provide NICTD the longest possible construction windows for the project and minimize disruptions for the short line’s customers.

The project is slated for completion in spring 2024, but CSS expects to benefit from the new double track long before then, says Bjornstad. The actual trackwork should be completed in December, he estimates.

“We will be in good shape then,” says Bjornstad. “The lag will give NICTD the time it needs to install and test the PTC, which takes the project to next spring.”

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